The Washington Post

Baby squirrel joins kitten family

In possibly the cutest thing you'll see all Squirrel Week, a mother cat nurses an orphaned squirrel. (The Washington Post)

There are few things cuter than kittens, except maybe for baby squirrels.  Put those together and it’s like a furry Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup: You got kittens on my baby squirrel! You got baby squirrel on my kittens!

That’s exactly what happened last month in Vista, Calif., north of San Diego. Chris DeBaets, a pilot for FedEx, was out taking a walk not far from his house when he came upon a baby squirrel in the middle of the road. He scooped it up and called his wife, Liz, to ask a question that countless little boys have asked: “Can we keep him?”

“I said, ‘Yeah, I think that would be fine,’ ” Liz said. She’s a pediatrician so is perhaps better prepared than most of us to deal with a fragile young life.

Liz estimated that the orphaned squirrel was about four weeks old. It had fur but its eyes were still closed and it was cold and dehydrated. Luckily, she had the perfect way to warm it up. A week earlier, their cat Missy had given birth to six kittens. Liz removed Missy from the box in the laundry room that was serving as a feline nursery and put in the baby squirrel.

“We just kind of rubbed it around with the litter of kittens,” Liz said. “He was cold. He was happy to snuggle in there. We left him for an hour then we introduced the mom.”

Missy didn’t seem to mind that her brood had  grown by one — and a strange one at that.

“She kind of sniffed him and licked him and that was that for her,” Liz said.

The next morning, the squirrel was fine and Liz and Chris and their kids — they have four, two boys and two girls ranging in age from 13 to 6 — started caring in earnest for it: rehydrating it with Gatorade, doing regular feedings by syringe of special chow.

Before Peanut started nursing from her adoptive mother, he was fed by a syringe. (Photos courtesy of the DeBaets family)

About a week after the squirrel joined the litter, it started nursing from Missy, its surrogate mother, just one more suckling infant at the end of the line.

“They’ve all just been growing up together,” Liz said. “Their eyes were opening around the same time. They started to take their first food together. We give them kitten chow and he likes it. Then I introduced some squirrel food — strawberries, avocados, walnuts — and one of the kittens loves the squirrel food.”

When Liz started to train the kittens to use a litter box, it was the squirrel who learned it first. She’s pretty sure he’s a male and they’ve named him Peanut. “He looks like a peanut: small and shaped like that,” she said.

Missy the cat nurses her kittens — plus Peanut the squirrel.

Liz doesn’t think Peanut is confused about what he is. Lately, he’s started acting more like a squirrel, skittering around. He’s a ground squirrel, not a tree squirrel, so he likes to be digging and exploring dark corners. That’s what he’s been doing in the laundry room. The kittens have been doing that, too, so maybe they’re teaching each other.

Of course, squirrels and cats aren’t normally pals. Is this the beginnings of a dangerous relationship? Liz hopes not. Missy has shown no animosity toward Peanut. “I think she’s very maternal,” she said. The kitten siblings treat Peanut as another cat, romping with him in the play-hunting that cats do.

Liz said she knows some people might think it’s a bad idea to to take a baby squirrel from the wild and raise it in a house, to put it in with a bunch of cats.

“I totally understand that,” she said. “The point is, my husband could not walk away from this baby squirrel in the middle of the street whose eyes were not yet opened. We did what we did in the moment. We just kind of go day by day. Right now, he’s happy.”

And after looking at those photos and that video — baby squirrel! kittens! — I’m pretty happy, too.

Peanut the squirrel on the shoulder of his rescuer, Chris DeBaets of Vista, Calif.

And don’t miss all the other stories we’ve featured during our annual Squirrel Week:

America’s city squirrels have humans to thank for giving them a home

Emboldened by free snacks, hungry squirrels terrorized a Falls Church golf course for years

Why would someone invent a squirrel feeder shaped like a horse’s head? Why not?

One paw washing the other: Oak trees and squirrels have evolved to help each other

Squirrel Week 2014: Ask a squirrel expert

When these stuffed squirrels went on the auction block, bidders went nuts

Pretty pictures of squirrels

Would you cheer for a squirrel? Students at Oberlin College are happy to.

Vote for your favorite squirrel-centric college or team mascot

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section.



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